November 27, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Sunday of Advent
Reading I (Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7)
Reading II (1 Corinthians 1:3-9)
Gospel (St. Mark 13:33-37)
As we begin this holy season of Advent today, we are reminded that not only is this a new year for the Church but that this is a penitential season, a penitential season very different from that of Lent. In Lent, it is a season of reparation to make up for our sins. But Advent is a season of preparation, as we prepare for the coming of the Lord. So in the readings today, we hear about the coming of Christ, and this Advent season is a season where we both look back and look ahead. For instance, we hear from the prophet Isaiah, praying that the Lord would rend the heavens and come down. Saint Paul, on the other hand, is talking about how we will be preserved right up until the day of Our Lord, that is, the day of the Second Coming. And so it is preparing for the celebration of the first coming of Christ into the world, and at the same time it is preparation in our souls for the second coming of Christ into the world. Of course, since most of us are probably going to die long before the Second Coming, it is a preparation for the day when we will see Him face to face on the day of judgment after our own death. So it is a point of always keeping these things firmly in mind.
As we ponder that particular point, we really need to look very seriously at what it is that we are being told in the Scriptures. Jesus makes a very, very solemn point, and it is all encapsulized in that last sentence in the Gospel reading today: What I say to you, I say to all: Watch! We need always to be vigilant. It is something that is not so simple, and we have all experienced it. At a certain moment of zeal in our lives, we may decide that we are going to do certain things and strive to serve the Lord. Then as the weeks and the months and the years go on, we look at it and say, “Where is this getting me? Look at what all these other people are doing, look at all the things they have, look at what they’re about, and then look at me. I want to be just like everyone else. I want to be more like them. I don’t want to reject the Lord. I’ll go to Mass on Sunday, but then I’m going to be like everyone else the rest of the time.” We start to fade, and Our Lord is telling us that we have to be vigilant. It is not enough for us just to simply cry out, “Lord, Lord,” as He Himself makes clear. He says, Not everyone who cries out, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My heavenly Father. So it is not enough just to go through the motions and say that we love Jesus. It is not enough to say that we want to do the Will of Jesus. What is required is that we carry it out.
Now if we look at that first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we see the difficulty in it. Isaiah can acknowledge that we are all sinful, that we have become like unclean people; yet at the same time he prays that God would rend the heavens and come down. He did–and who noticed? Very few people. So here we have the prophet praying that God would do this. The people are supposed to be watching for the Messiah. They knew the time of His coming because it was very clearly and explicitly prophesied, and they missed it. To this day, the people of Israel continue to seek for their Messiah because they have not noticed that He arrived. They rejected Him when He came.
The same thing can happen to us. Look at the people who noticed. We have Our Blessed Lady, Saint Joseph, Anna, and Simeon. Those are the people who recognized the coming of the Lord. What was different about them than everybody else? They prayed. That is what was different about them. Anna was in the temple day and night in fasting and prayer; Simeon, a pious man who was seeking always the Holy Spirit; Our Blessed Lady, completely immersed in prayer; Saint Joseph, called the righteous man, always doing the Will of God. That is what made these four people different. Of course, they were probably thought to be weird in society because they were not like everyone else. They did not give lip service to God–they did the Will of God. And look at what happened to them because they did the Will of God. They were watching, they recognized the time of their visitation, and they were able not only to see the Messiah face to face in this life, but they were able to recognize Who He was so that they could be with Him forever.
We need to acknowledge our own sinfulness. We need to confess our sins. But we need to change our lives. It is not enough, once again, to be able to admit that we have done things that are wrong. Repentance, which is the same as the Greek word metanoia, means “to turn around.” It does not just mean to acknowledge that we are on the wrong path and then keep walking on it. It means turn around, get onto the right path, and change the way that you live.
So in this time of preparation, we have the ultimate example of preparation placed before us, and that is the glorious Blessed Virgin Mary. Her focus was singular. Her focus was on God and on doing His Will. When God asked her to do things that were difficult, things that were inconvenient, things that would not have been what she had planned, Our Blessed Lady was willing to drop what she wanted to do, or what she might have preferred to do on her own, and do the Will of God. For those of you who are female, just ask yourself: What would it be like at nearly nine months of pregnancy to be asked to hop on the back of a donkey and go eighty miles, bouncing your way along? That is what God asked of Our Lady. What about, as soon as you find out that you are with child, you are asked to walk eighty miles to go and care for an elderly relative? Rather than looking out for herself, Our Lady had to seek the good of another. Her situation, whether that was dealing with Saint Joseph and waiting for God to reveal to him what was going to be taking place, or whether that was simply preparing in the depth of her heart, dealing with a society that did not understand, or having to give birth in a stable, no mother would ever prepare like that, but that is what Our Lord asked of Our Lady. And how did she know that was what God was asking? Because she prayed.
Now you might sit back and say, “But if that’s what God is going to do if I pray, maybe I’d better not pray because my life will be a whole lot easier if I just do it my way!” There is another individual in history who did it his way–his name is Lucifer. He did not want to do it God’s way; he did it his own way. He rejected what God was asking of him because it was to accept humility and be obedient, and he said “no,” that he would not serve, that he would not do it God’s way. Now you can ask yourself, “Should I pray and do it God’s way, or should I do it my way?” My way will be the same as Satan’s way if we refuse to do what God wants, but we can say, “I’ll go to Mass; I’ll talk about the Lord; I still believe in God.” So what? If you do not want to do it God’s way, what good is all the lip service? The question is: Are we willing to change our lives?
Now most of us are going to say that we want to do it God’s way, and most of us will refuse to do it God’s way because it requires change on our part. Our Lady was willing to do whatever God wanted, even when it was personally inconvenient, even when society would not understand, even when it meant she would be rejected. It did not matter to her. The only thing that mattered was doing God’s Will. What about us? Are we willing to do God’s Will, or are we only willing to give Him lip service? Are we willing to immerse ourselves in prayer to seek His Will and to carry it out, or are we going to hedge our bets, say a few prayers here and there, but not really go very deep because that will require change?
These are not easy things for any of us, but when we look at the saints, God never asked them to do easy things. He asked them to do saintly things. We are no different. God wants you to be a saint. That means He wants you to do His Will. And His Will for each one of us is that we will repent, that we will confess our sins and turn around and change our lives. Then we will be kept faithful to the very end. If we do it our own way, we are going to be swept away. If we do it God’s way, we are going to be fine.
So Our Lord commands us to watch, to be vigilant like a mother coming near to the end of her time of pregnancy, to be prepared, to know that the contractions could start anytime, and to be ready. In this case, it is to be watching in prayer and to remove from our lives anything that is going to inhibit our ability to do God’s Will. Are we willing to do it? Lip service is going to end us up in hell. We need to change and we need to do God’s Will. The only way to do the Will of God is to let go of our own preconceived notions of what should happen and the way it should be, to pray, to be humble, to be obedient, and to watch.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.